A Short History of the Second-Hand Clothes Market

Anyone who knows me well will know that I love to shop second-hand, be it charity shops, jumble sales, car boots, eBay or anything else! During the many years I have been a part of the second-hand market, I have built a working knowledge of the value of items and particularly those which are sought after (hint: it tends to be the good brand names, as people know those are quality items). I also have been able to develop my love of vintage style, as I find genuine vintage items in the charity shops. One of my great loves is vintage Laura Ashley garments and I hope to be able to share a little more of that on my blog soon. I recently discovered a book published by Laura Ashley in 1983 and it’s a really fascinating read. It’s called Fabric of Society – A Century of People and their Clothes 1770-1870 by Jane Tozer and Sarah Levitt. You can pick up a hardback 1st edition for 1p, plus P&P on Amazon so it’s a real bargain!

I was very interested to come across this information about the history of the second-hand clothes market. As still is the case nowadays, second-hand clothing provides a way for poor (and financially savvy) people to buy the essentials. Then, as much as now, people were often too busy to sew or make their own garments. The Primarks of the day were known as ‘slop’ shops! I’m not sure if that’s where we get the word sloppy from. But just as today, the quality was poor and the garments did not last. The savvy people knew to buy second-hand, high quality garments that had come from the large houses. People who knew the market were very shrewd and able to judge which were the high-quality pieces. This meant if you were buying through a dealer, you’d pay a higher price than if you found the bargain yourself. Nothing changes eh?

Certain items of clothing were only worn by the gentry, such as dress coats and so, there was no second-hand market for these. They had to be turned into other garments, so they could be sold on. So, people either bought them and turned them into wool hats or caps, or traders did. These coats were also used to patch other garments. If a waistcoat began to wear, then it would be cut down into a smaller size or used to create cloth tops for boots. I think we could learn a thing or two from those days, don’t you?

Woollen garments which were so worn, they could no longer serve as clothing were sent for recycling. They would be ground down and mixed with new wool, into a fibre known as ‘shoddy’. I wonder if that’s where we get that word from also? This fibre was used to make cheap, mass-produced clothing. They didn’t waste anything and the dust from the mills, was used as manure on the hop-fields of Kent. This of course is safe with natural fibres, unlike the plastic micro-fibres that are clogging up our oceans today because we like to wear micro-fleece garments.

Old boots and shoes were patched up with anything they had to hand, even cardboard! Although that can’t have been great for anyone concerned, as it’s hardly durable or waterproof. Then they would be blackened to look good as new, if only temporarily. For this reason, people who worked outdoors often purchased new boots, even if they had to save up for them because they knew that quality footwear was essential to do their jobs safely and well!

In the 1700s and 1800s, women’s dress was less subject to change and this was because they knew how to sew! They would carry out any alterations themselves if fashions changed, or either repairing garments or cutting them down into child-sized ones. They would also tend to sell garments on themselves, after cleaning them. Old silk garments were used to line new clothing, or work boxes or dressing cases. They could also be turned into childrens or even dolls clothes!

Wool and cotton were recycled into shoddy thread and linen rags went to paper mills, but silk was not salvageable once damaged or worn. Cotton gowns were the most popular as they stood the test of time well and could be cleaned. Woollen dresses were less popular, as they did not last so well- probably prone to bobbling. Then of course, there were the furs. Any second-hand furs were mostly sold to prostitutes, as most people could not afford them – even second-hand! So much of this bears true today, if you buy a quality cotton garment it will be very long-lasting, as opposed to cheaper man-made fibres. I suspect that wool is more long-lasting today, as we know to hand wash it to keep it looking good.

The items that were most worn, such as trousers obviously tended to wear out and that’s why we don’t see many of these types of items, or working-class items at all in museums today because people actually wore their clothes out in those days. That really is a testament to the thriftiness and historic success of ‘the rag trade’, which really abhorred waste. A story that really is so relevant today!

Second Hand Rose – The Beauty of Buying Second Hand


My family call me Second Hand Rose! I’ve earnt this nickname over years because of the huge proportion of things I buy second hand. Be it charity shops, eBay, jumble sales, car boots, Facebook selling groups, friends, friends of friends- you name it, I’ve probably bought an item that way! Above is an Ercol hoop back chair I picked up for £2 on a Facebook selling group. I don’t think the seller had an idea of its value (but I did!) It needed sanding down as it had a few paint splatters on it, but nothing structurally wrong and look at it now, good as new and looking fantastic!

My family think I inherited a double-dose of the second hand gene, as my maternal grandfather used to love rooting around at a good car boot sale and my paternal grandmother was a definite charity shopper, along with the good old church jumble sale! Friends have pointed out that I have a nose for a bargain and can spot a good brand a mile off! I think this is down to years of learning to spot the good stuff and also knowing what I am looking for. This doesn’t necessarily have to be item specific because I think it’s important to keep an open mind when shopping second hand, as you never know what you might find. But, you can know what you’re looking for in terms of good brand names, quality material and manufacturing, condition and style. There are Antiques and Collectables Guides which you could consider borrowing from your local library to gen-up. But they will usually only cover furniture, crockery and that kind of thing. I’ve tended to learn from experience and by spotting a good-looking item and then reading up about it or the brand online afterwards.

For example; I’m often buying ladies clothing for myself- if you keep an eye out for the higher end brand names (and occasionally designer pieces. Yes really, get to know your designer labels!) you will often find a good piece. To be more specific, I would be looking for Hobbs, White Stuff, Seasalt, Phase Eight, Laura Ashley, Whistles, Lands End and that sort of thing. A brand name doesn’t always spell quality, in my humble opinion White Stuff make some real cheap tat these days- really thin, poor quality cotton items. You also want to check out the condition of the garment – has it been washed too many times or incorrectly and is the fabric starting to look pilled, bobbled, misshapen or even shrunk?

Always try on your garments before buying, just as you would do in a shop. There’s often a reason why an item has ended up in a charity shop – it may be an oddly fitting or unflattering garment. Sometimes you don’t notice a flaw until you try it on; like a zip that doesn’t work, or a stain that only shows up in the bright changing room lighting. Most charity shops these days do have changing rooms, but if not – make sure that you can return an item for a refund if it doesn’t fit. Beware the charity shops that will only give you a credit note, as that probably won’t be much use – you can’t guarantee that there will be another item you want to buy. Another way to mitigate against potential disasters is to carry a tape measure with you and know your own body measurements off by heart. That way you can quickly and easily ascertain whether an item is likely to fit.

I buy a significant proportion of my wardrobe second hand with most pieces only costing a few pounds. Much of the time (because I look out for good brand names, in excellent condition and won’t pay over the odds), I can sell an item on after I’ve finished wearing it for the same or more than I paid for it. This only works if you also take care of the items whilst they’re in your ownership – so don’t stain them or shrink them in the wash! But it works out as a zero cost per wear! How many people can say that?

My general advice is that you don’t want to pay more than £10 for an item like a jacket, coat or dress, no more than £6 for a skirt and no more than £4 for a pair of trousers or a top. Occasionally I might go a little bit higher, say £12 for a  really nice dress and £15 for a proper, winter coat. But charity shops that ask any more than that for High Street names are trying to take the mickey and over inflate their prices. I see this more and more these days, and to be honest you might as well just look on eBay where you’ll often find things for less. Personally I dislike car boot sales and jumble sales for clothing because you can’t try items on, but the advantage is that items are usually so cheap (we’re talking anything from 10p up to about £2), that you can afford a few mistakes! Always remember to check the care labels before buying clothing – you might love the item, but you’re not going to love paying to dry clean it all the time! I try to stick to machine washable items only and that’s probably better for the environment too.

Whilst I’ve majored on clothing in this post, we’ve bought a significant amount of our furniture and homewares second hand. The only thing I’m slightly squeamish about buying second hand are mattresses and sofas, or easy chairs. Soft furnishings can easily be harbouring nasty bugs, you don’t know if the previous owner has had pets (fleas!), or basically what bodily fluids are on the items. Ewwww. That said, I have purchased 1 upholstered chair second hand and it has been fine. It’s a bit different if you’re going to re-upholster something and just keep the frame. Mind you, some people are squeamish about second hand shoes, but as long as they’re in good condition that doesn’t bother me. And no, I’ve never caught anything nasty! The fact is you can shave a significant portion off the price of new by buying second hand. If you stick to good brand names, you’ll probably break in or even profit (so long as you check, for example, sold prices on eBay beforehand to make sure you don’t bid over the top). I’d recommend looking at items made by John Lewis, Marks and Spencer, Ercol, G Plan, Laura Ashley and similar.

Sometimes it’s helpful to go to a specialist retailer that deals in a particular item, or group of items. For example, for a musical instrument, sporting equipment, sewing machine. They may also service the item before sale and possibly give a guarantee with it. You’ll also benefit from their expertise. This is particularly helpful if you have children who grow out of items quickly, as you’ll often find barely used items for a fraction of their original price.

You can buy almost anything second hand and it can really help your budget to stretch further. I’d love to hear stories of your second hand bargains. What kinds of things do you buy second hand and why? Where do you like to shop for them?

When you think you’ve minimised- minimise some more!

Photo on 14-05-2014 at 22.22

(Sorry about the naff quality of this picture, my phone has gone in for repairs, so I had to take it with a webcam instead!)

We’ve really been enjoying a sense of wellbeing around the house for the last few months, since my last post actually! It’s down to the space, the lack of clutter and the opportunities that brings. Peace- less physical clutter= less mental clutter. Joy- at being in a pleasant environment. Freedom to pursue other interests, instead of organising, tidying and cleaning.

But, as car boot season approaches- a) I can’t resist because I love car boots and b) we are constantly accumulating more stuff that can be gotten rid of. Today, I spent 10 minutes going through the kitchen cupboards to find items that we are not using. Many of the items in the above picture we inherited with the house (bought from a family member) and kept them on that awful premise that “they might be useful someday”.

8 months later, they most certainly have not and I cannot wait for them to be gone! We are getting rid of:

  1. A lovely patterned pie dish that was a wedding present but has had very little use
  2. A melamine picnic plate that my mum gave me, but has been used once or twice. It’s got a lovely pattern, but the design proved entirely impractical for containing food
  3. 2 packets of seeds, now out of date but someone might use them (inherited)
  4. Packet of out of date batteries, maybe someone can use them (inherited)
  5. Medium saucepan (inherited). We do not need all the saucepans we have and this is the third of 3 this size!
  6. Dryer balls (inherited). Why exactly do you need to bother with these?
  7. Silver cleaning cloth- I gave away the silver!
  8. Thermos flask in carry case (inherited)- never use it
  9. Pie funnel (was my Grandma’s) but I have never used it, even when I make pies- I just cut a slit in the top instead
  10. Tupperware Flour scoop (was my Grandma’s) great idea, never use it!
  11. Melon baller (given to me by mum) ‘felt’ that I should keep it, but I recently helped her move and she admitted that she could never get hers to work either and gave it to a charity shop. I feel released to follow suit!
  12. Gourmet gold cat food fork (freebie). Yes, exactly- who needs this? It’s tiny and impractical to use and can’t be put in the dishwasher
  13. Rolling pin- found out after buying that this deposits small amounts of rust from between the handles each time it is used. It is unhygienic and annoying when it ruins your pristine white icing! I bought a solid one from a charity shop for less than this one cost me!
  14. 2 non-stick cake tins (inherited). I have to admit I will never need to use 4 cake tins, 2 is enough
  15. Various plastic pots and boxes- we never use them, we already have enough
  16. 2 mouse traps (inherited)- we don’t have a mouse problem, we don’t need these!
  17. Peeler- 1 of 3, not needed!

So there you go, 17 items going (not including multiples) and 1 empty kitchen cupboard is going to be reclaimed and repurposed. The over-riding message from this decluttering session is about having ‘enough’. It is greed that drives us to have more than we need. I am letting this items go, to hopefully someone who actually NEEDS them. I’d encourage you to read other minimalism blogs that speak about the concept of enough, if you need further encouragement.

Please get in touch and share stories about your minimalism journey.

Car booting



I spotted a car boot very local to us and I persuaded my husband to accompany me. He hates car boots, but I absolutely love them! The thrill of selling your stuff and quickly building up hard cash, watching all that tat you probably would have thrown away actually working for you, feeling gratified that someone else has a use for it and it didn’t have to go to landfill- the reasons are many! Above is a picture of what we brought back (I didn’t have time to take a before picture because we only decided to go a few hours in advance, so it was a mad dash!) But, you wouldn’t have seen the carpet before! Plus, in addition to freeing ourselves from that burden- physically and emotionally, we are now £60 better off!

Most of what we took and sold was family stuff that we have inherited since we moved. We moved into a family home, I wish I’d made them empty it first! But really either way it would have fallen to us. Going through the loft in preparation was an eye opener, there were so many empty boxes. You know, computer parts that they pad out in fancy cardboard boxes, to make you feel like you are getting more for your money. The psychology behind it is convincing to many.

Anyhow, most of what is left will be going to a charity shop or being freecycled on Monday. Then we will just about be back to where we were before we moved. Then I can concentrate on really paring down our belongings to the minimum amount that we need to live. I am looking forward to achieving that.

I’d really recommend a car boot to those of you UK readers. I think they’re the equivalent of a US Garage Sale. We paid a minimal £5 entrance fee, which went to a local charity in this case. It was 3 hours of minimal effort, in a beautiful location and it allowed us to shift some more stuff quickly! We have found from experience, that small car boots are MUCH better. You will get a better return and get rid of more stuff because you naturally have less competition. Why not give one a try and let me know how you get on?